At a cost of about $2,000 to $4,000, electric bikes are an investment that most people aren’t willing to make. Sales doubled between 2012 and 2013, but they still stand at just 200,000 bikes sold in the U.S. last year, compared to 16 million non-electric bikes.
That’s why the concept of the smart wheel–essentially, a wheel that converts a regular bike into an electric one–is so exciting. Smart wheels are cheaper than full-fledged electric bikes, and they don’t require the commitment of a full electric model; if you don’t like the smart wheel, you can just remove it. Over the years, a handful of smart wheel concepts have popped up, including MIT’s Copenhagen Wheel and the FlyKly Smart Wheel, which was funded on Kickstarter in 2013. But none are on the market yet.
Now, a three-year-old electric bike company called Evelo says that its Omni Wheel will be the first smart wheel to hit the market when it goes to production in January.
The wheel, which can get up to 25 miles on a charge (40 miles with an upgraded battery), has been in the works for over a year. It has a handful of important differences compared to its competitors, according to Evelo founder Boris Mordkovich. First, the Omni Wheel is a front wheel (other smart wheels go on the back of the bike). “The front wheel makes it significantly easier to take on and off whereas removing and replacing the rear wheel may require technical skills,” he says. “With the front wheel, it’s incredibly easy, and you maintain the existing gears of the bike. With gears, you get more out of electric assist. You can climb steeper hills.”
The other big differentiator: The Omni Wheel comes with an onboard wireless display that lets riders choose their power-assist level and look at speed and distance information. Both the Copenhagen Wheel and the FlyKly wheel have smartphone holders and use apps to control this information. Apps might be convenient for most riders, but the Omni Wheel appears to be the only smart wheel that doesn’t require a smartphone for use. Thieves might be less attracted to the onboard computer than a shiny smartphone that they see whizzing by (the onboard computer is also detachable).
While it is cheaper than an electric bike, the Omni Wheel is still far from cheap. It costs $1,000 to pre-order, and $1,200 at full price, which is more expensive than the competition is aiming for, though these companies have not yet begun shipping.
Check out the pre-order page here.